It’s been 7 months since school was shut down on March 16, 2020. Parents have witnessed a lot of changes with their children and have gone through a lot of ups and downs. I know this is going to sound so strange when I write this, but it has been a very long seven months and yet I’m surprised that the year is ending already. It will be 2021 before we blink. I think most of us will be happy to say goodbye to the year 2020 and I wish for everyone to have many blessings and good things happen in 2021. The year 2021 adds up to a number five and I really love that number. My party of five says 2021 is going to be a great year.

At first, we all did well with the shutdown. My husband moved all his work stuff home and the five of us were home together all the time. We took a very needed time out from a very busy life. My kids got a lot more sleep and rest and I noticed that Lillie’s behavior improved because she wasn’t so tired. We spent a lot of family time together and everyone seemed to be doing ok.

Lillie was the first one to really miss seeing her friends. I did notice that she was on the phone with them all the time which helped her. I started letting her see her friends and I noticed how much happier it was making her. She is a social butterfly and she always wants a friend over. If she is not at school or an activity, she is asking me if she can invite a friend over.

Max was living the life in quarantine. A teenager’s dream life is what he had. I was letting him sleep as much as he wanted, he had a kitchen full of food, a mother cooking and baking for him and lots of games to play on his computer. He was a very happy boy. I heard him online all the time talking to friends and I felt like at least he wasn’t playing his games alone.

I completely understand that Max may be a homebody. I love that he is now getting out of the house two days a week to go to school. I love that he sees the benefit of learning in the classroom. I love that not only does he have soccer teams that he plays on, but he has also decided to start doing football at school. This is all stuff that is making me very happy. I pay close attention to my children and if they are happy. I pay close attention to signs of if I need to do some intervening. Are they sleeping too much? Are they eating? Are they eating enough? Are they eating too much? Are they talking to people? Are they getting dressed? How is their mood? These are all questions running through my head as I assess my children regularly. Part of my journey to do the best job I can as a parent is to have them be mentally healthy and not just physically healthy.

Halloween is coming up this weekend and I can’t get Max to make any plans, and he doesn’t want me to make any plans for him. He’s only thirteen years old. I want him to go trick or treating with his friends. He won’t even get a costume. I am saddened by all of this. He prefers to be online with his friends but there can’t only be socialization online. What about socializing in person? What has happened to this? I see teenagers outside playing basketball together. I see teenagers riding their bikes together. I know it isn’t nonexistent. I also know that my son wants to talk to his friends online. This isn’t okay with me. He is losing his ability to socialize in person. I am letting this happen. I have watched it happen. I need to step in. I know I’m not the only one with this issue as I have spoken to other mothers who feel the same way I do. It’s time for mama bear to do something about this.

I spend a lot of time in the car with my kids. Seth loves all the time he spends in the car with Max going to soccer. It is their bonding time. When we were all in quarantine and Max was in his room a lot, Seth was having Max withdrawal. He gets a lot of one on one time in the car with Max and he was missing soccer and car time. I love that Max has deep conversations with Seth. I think Seth is thrilled that soccer practices are happening and is even more excited that games are hopefully beginning next month. We have spent hours and hours of our lives at soccer games. So have our parents. Our parents need soccer games too. It is good for everyone’s mental health to see each other.

I was picking up Lillie from tumbling and taking Ella to Girl Scouts, so I had both girls with me in the car. Ella started asking Lillie how it’s so easy for her to talk to her friends? Ella was explaining to me that it’s so much easier for her to text her friends, and that she’s not as good at talking in person or on the phone. This is new. I understand that being a tween is a hard time. 11 isn’t an easy age. Hormones are rising, moods are changing, friends are changing, interests are changing. I haven’t found many children who like the middle school years. I remember being 11 and being in middle school. I didn’t like middle school either. People seem to have fond memories of high school and elementary school, but it’s rare that you hear someone raving about their middle school years.

Ella and Lillie asked me for topics to talk to their friends about and I listed school, ATA, Roblox, dancing, gymnastics, Girl scouts, cosplay.   I feel like I always have so much to talk to my friends about, but they seemed to genuinely want and need my suggestions.

My mama alert flag was up, and I noticed that I have my son wanting to talk to his friends online and my daughter wanting to text her friends. Are they hiding behind technology? Do they feel too vulnerable being with people? I was raised in an age with very little technology. My memories of watching tv and playing Super Mario Brothers with my brother are my only technology memories. My brother and I spent hours and hours in our pool, and outside playing with friends.

Online school is not the way to go in my opinion. I should start out by saying that I totally understand that it depends on the family and I know that there are different situations in each family. One of my best friend’s just said she kept her daughters home because they see her parents a lot. I will say that for my family online school is not the way to go. Max loves eating in his kitchen, using his own bathroom, and being in his house all day. However, there is nothing like being with talented teachers in person in the classroom, and being with other students. Nothing can replace that, and I hope that we are not moving in the direction of permanent online school. My hope is that when they reevaluate how things are going in January that they will add more days for my kids to go to school. I want my children with people.

The masks are also becoming an issue. If it is going to keep us all healthier and if it works, then power to the masks. However, we can’t see each other’s mouths. We can’t see each other smile. We can’t read lips while someone is talking. I never realized how much my hearing goes with lip reading too. My hearing skills have gone down as I can only use my ears to hear people and I can’t use my eyes to read lips. A part of our socialization is being able to see people smile. I’m thankful that I can tell if someone is smiling from their eyes, but this is a big loss we are experiencing with everyone wearing a mask. I hope that the masks aren’t effecting our children’s ability to socialize. I hope they aren’t hiding behind their masks. I won’t even go into how much I dislike wearing a mask. I have a list of reasons but that is a whole different conversations. If I want my kids to go to school they have to wear a mask.

I was so beyond thrilled to send my children back to school two days a week. I was so happy for them. I was warned that it wouldn’t be the same. I warned my children about all the changes at school. The lunchroom is problem number one. They are all sitting at individual desks alphabetically in Max and Ella’s middle school. I am not sure that this was the right way to go. How about at least letting them sit next to their friends at their desks ,and pick where they are sitting? It could still be an assigned seat that they choose. The girl that Ella was talking to that sat next to her moved to a different school, and now she sits next to an empty desk. This is not ok with me. I asked her what she does during lunch and she says she looks out the window and enjoys her mask break, and I tried hard not to start crying.

Max doesen’t seem phased by the lunchroom. He is pretty easy going and goes with the flow of most things. However, Lillie got in my car at school pick up the other day and told me how lonely she is at recess and lunch. My heart is breaking for these kids. Lillie said she misses sitting with her friends at lunch. Her class sits in the classroom at lunch at their desks which are not near their friends. She did find a girl to talk to, and told me she doesn’t want to talk to the boys. Last year she sat with a few good friends at lunch and giggled away. I miss those days. This is not good for our children’s social skills and it’s not good for their mental health. I’m not a happy mommy.

Today as I dropped Lillie off at school she asked me if I kept the bag of toys in her backpack. She told me that it’s very sad to her that she has to play by herself at her desk with her own toys for recess. I was so glad that she was expressing herself. She went on to tell me she plays with her toys by herself at home so she knows she can do it at school too, it just made her sad. I told her I understood that she wanted recess with friends and that I felt terrible that she couldn’t have that right now. I told her that I love when she spends time making me a beautiful picture if she chooses to draw during recess. THIS IS NOT OKAY!   This seems so extreme to me and my mama heart is hurting for my kids. I told Lillie that I would buy her some new toys for her to be excited about to use during recess. I also put little word puzzles that I made up in my girls lunches for them to try to figure out while they eat. I think I am going to buy some fun puzzles to put in their lunch boxes for lunch time to entertain them. I don’t like that Ella is staring out the window day dreaming and isn’t getting to talk to anyone. I talked to Ella after school today and she gave me a huge thank you for the word puzzle. She couldn’t figure it out but she said that it gave her something to do and she wasn’t bored at lunch. I’m tearing up as I write this. I’m sad for my kids.

My kids can’t even practice their social skills at school. They are sitting far away from kids with their masks on. Everyone is so focused on keeping them healthy physically while the mental health concerns are rising.

My mother told me that she hoped that this year there would be less illness due to wearing masks and being socially distant. I hope she is right. I hope that all these regulations prevent illness. I completely understand that everything is for a reason and yet I feel it’s too extreme. My kids need to be in school. Even if it’s for a couple days a week. My kids need to be able to do their activities. Soccer, hockey, football, etc need to start being allowed to play games. Our kids need to be with people. My kids are forgetting how to socialize. I’m worried about what these last seven months are doing to our children’s mental health. I want my children to be able to talk to their friends at lunch. I want Lillie to be able to play with her friends at recess. I’m so sad for Lillie that I am going to go invest in some special recess toys for her to take to school tomorrow.

I can tell you all my concerns but more important is what am I going to do about my concerns:

  • I am going to let my children do a lot of activities so that they are with people! Theater, Soccer, Tumbling, dance, girl scouts. I am going to hope that they socialize at these activities.
  • I am a Girl Scout leader for both Ella and Lillie’s troops. I am going to plan as much as I can in person safely so my girls can connect with their friends. I am going to work on programming to help with anxiety and social skills and to help their overall mental health.
  • I am going to spend more time making friend plans for Max and Ella in person with their friends.
  • I am going to do daily check ins with all three kids to see how they are doing. How is your day going? Tell me what’s good about your day? Tell me what’s not so good about your day? Who did you talk to at school? I am going to keep my ears wide open for whenever they decide to tell me things.
  • I am going to ask my children what fun things they would like me to plan for them.
  • My neighbors went on vacation within the state just to get a change of scenery. I think that’s a great idea and I think that’s good for your family’s mental health.
  • I am going to enlist supports to help me. Their grandparents can spend time with my kids and can have conversations with them. This builds social skills and is good for their overall mental health. Time with their parents, grandparents, friends, etc. is so good for them.
  • One on one quality time is always a great idea. It’s Monday afternoon and my husband and I just got back from a lunch date together. We were overdue for some time together. My kids also need one on one time with me. On Friday nights when Lillie has dance and Max has soccer it’s the perfect time for me to squeeze in some Mommy/Ella time. I always ask her what she wants to do and try to let her pick the agenda of the night. My kids always talk to me more when it’s one on one vs. when the whole family is together.
  • Connect them with an adult. Whether it’s an aunt, uncle, grandparent, family friend, or someone from school – it’s excellent for a child to have an adult to connect to outside of their parents who they can talk to. One person can have a huge impact on your child. I remember how significant teachers, babysitters and coaches were in my life. They help with overall mental health and can certainly help with talking to your children and improving their social skills.
  • If your children seem to be struggling with anxiety, depression, social skills, etc., reach out to the social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors at school and/or don’t hesitate to get them a counselor. Your child needs to be able to connect with whoever you hire. The relationship between the child and therapist is the greatest indicator of the success. Not everyone will be a good fit.
  • Have lots of conversations with your children. They’re learning their social skills from you!
  • Limit screen time. I’m not doing well with this one. Do better than I am!

Technology has so many benefits. I am so thankful for technology allowing us to always stay connected to people for work, school and our personal lives. I just don’t want to see anyone hide behind the technology. It’s important that we have social interactions with people in person. I realize that people are being careful right now and I also know that it’s time for me to make sure that all three of my children aren’t losing their ability to be able to spend time with their friends in person. It’s time for me to take control and make them some plans! I need to look out for my kids and I’m worried that they are losing their social skills.

Laughing, Learning, Loving,

Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R